Where It All Goes Down: Significant Settings and Objects in ‘Trifles’

May 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

Looking over the course of time, women in every society have been expected to maintain the household living up to the old adage that they, like children, should be seen and not heard. In the play “Trifles” written by Susan Glaspell, this is clearly expressed. It takes place in a rural abandoned farmhouse where the reader is shown the abusive society women were forced to encounter on a daily basis. The reader is presented with the main characters of the play such as the court attorney, sheriff, Mrs. Peters, and Mrs. Hale. The setting presents a somber tone leading to some grisly discoveries as the sheriff arrives at the farmhouse. Finding the house in total disarray, they soon discover a dead bird, a dead man, and a distraught woman who had a story to tell. The importance in the setting is the rural scene that sets the stage for an unseen drama that might lead one to commit heinous acts against humanity. The solemnity of the countryside and feelings of loneliness tend to impact the behaviors of those who live alone, separated from the rest of the world. This leads the reader to decide who is to blame for the murder of John Wright. Susan Glaspell demonstrates her setting by focusing on the Wright’s kitchen, birdcage, and the bird. The three objects support and provide evidence of what exactly happened the night of John Wright’s death.

The play, “Trifles,” has an elaborate setting that takes place in the early 1900’s. The play revolves around the kitchen of the Wright’s farmhouse. In this society, the kitchen is viewed as a woman’s place. The consistent problem in “Trifles” is trying to grasp an understanding of the timeline of events. A statement that is relevant to the setting that connects back into the title is when it is stated that “Well, women are used to worrying over trifles” (636). In this era, the issues of women were viewed as “trifles” hence the title of the play. The play begins when the main characters of the play arrive at John & Minnie Wright’s farmhouse where they discover the kitchen is a complete chaos. The sheriff and the court attorney discuss possibilities of what may have occurred the night of John Wright’s death. The kitchen plays a significant role in the play since the kitchen is a disaster. The disarray leads the men to snoop, looking for clues and criticize the mess. For instance, the court attorney says to others that Minnie Wright was not much of a housekeeper simply because the roller towels in the kitchen were dirty and in need of a replacement (637). The men viewed the towels as an indication that she was a dirty housewife. Minnie, like so many other women of her time, were seen as objects for a specific purpose. To Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters, her uncleanness was viewed as evidence. Minnie may not have been aware of the state of the kitchen because of the preoccupation with the murder of her husband. Other than signs of “incomplete work” such as the filthy dishes in the sink, bread left on the counter, and the dirty towels. An important aspect of the play is how dismissive the sheriff and court attorney are presented. For example, the sheriff says “Nothing here but kitchen things” (636). The irony of this statement is that they are investigating a crime committed by a woman. The court attorney and the sheriff are inattentive to the “kitchen things.”

An important aspect of the setting is the broken birdcage that represents her marriage. Due to the geographic isolation of the farmhouse, it led Minnie to believe that her own home symbolizes a cage. Another feature of the birdcage is that it represents the male-dominated society that Minnie and many other women were forced to live in. Leonard Mustazza states “the change in Minnie Foster Wright – the change from a singing bird to a muted caged bird” (494). The broken birdcage is the stifling life Minnie received after she got married to John Wright. This also helps establish how Minnie’s character was once delightful. Due to her neglectful marriage, it transformed Minnie into a lonely and depressed woman. Mrs. Peters says, “Seems funny to think of a bird here. But she must have had one, or why would she have a cage?” (641). The farmhouse is displayed as a gloomy place that a cheerful canary appears to be out of place. As Mrs. Hale begins to examine the cage she cries, “someone must have been rough with the cage” (641) due to the door of the cage being broken. This evidence proves the violent way Minnie Wright escaped her cage that symbolized her marriage.

The last defining object that increases the probability that Minnie murdered her husband is the dead bird. The bird signifies how cheerful and lively Minnie’s character was before she married John Wright. While Mrs. Hale was searching for scissors in a sewing basket, she discovers a box with the dead bird wrapped inside with a piece of silk. Mrs. Hale says, “She liked the bird. She was going to bury it in that pretty box” (643). The reader can conclude that the bird was special to Minnie by how she placed it in the box to represent as a casket for the canary. In the beginning, the bird is presumed to have died from old age but as Mrs. Hale takes a closer look, she jumps up and says “But, Mrs. Peters- look at it! Its neck! Look at its neck! It’s all – other side to” (642). Mrs. Hale confesses that the person behind the canary’s strangling had to be Mr. Wright. He was the only person who despised anything that brought joy. The significance of the bird being strangled leads the reader to make the connection that Minnie Wright had a motive to strangle her husband. In the beginning of the play, it is stated that “there was a gun in the house” (639). Thus, the killer could have shot Mr. Wright instead of strangling him in the same manner the canary was killed.

The Wrights’ kitchen, birdcage, and the bird are three key details that provide a sufficient amount of evidence that reveal the murderer of John Wright and what exactly occurred the night of his death. The kitchen plays a significant role in the play since the kitchen was a disaster. Due to the filthy dishes in the sink, bread left on the counter, and the dirty towels Minnie was viewed as a dirty housewife. All of these small aspects were overlooked but in reality had hidden clues. The broken birdcage and the dead canary, both are two objects in the setting that represent the joy that John Wright stifled in Minnie and the terrible act that followed his killing the one thing she treasured.

Work Cited

Glaspell, Susan. Trifles. Backpack Literature: An introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing, edited by X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia, Pearson, 2016, pp. 633-645

Mustazza, Leonard. “Generic Translation and Thematic Shift in Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” and “A Jury of Her Peers.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 26, no. 4, Fall89, pp. 489-496. EBSCOhost, db05.linccweb.org/login?url=http;//search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7135797&site=ehost-live.

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